My PS4 came close to making it. It was a PlayStation 4 from launch day in 2013, and it functioned well up until the last few months as if it knew it was due to be replaced by the new, more sophisticated PS5. The seven-year-old system was still capable of playing games, but the optical drive became confused, emitting sporadic beeps as if it were attempting to eject a phantom disc.
And it was reasonable to be concerned. Physically and in terms of forward-looking graphical capabilities, the powerful new PlayStation 5 console towers above its predecessor. Its AMD-powered GPU can process 10.28 teraflops, compared to 1.84 teraflops on the original PlayStation 4. (each TF represents about 1 trillion operations per second). It’s also rather tall. Really, really tall. In its upright orientation, it stands 16 inches (40.6 cm) tall. That’s how Sony intended for you to utilize it, based on the front of the box and Sony’s advertising image.
There aren’t many people that have that type of mental capacity. Fortunately, the console comes with a dual-use plastic stand that can be used to hold the console in both vertical and horizontal positions. The stand isn’t attractive (it needs to be put in vertically with a metal screw), but it works. I’m already working on a less fugly version to 3D print, and I’ll provide the design files as soon as I finish…
Beyond that, the elegant curving white-over-black box reminds me of Santiago Calatrava’s organic architectural ideas, such as the WTC Oculus in New York. The Xbox Series X, on the other hand, is designed to look like a Soviet-era constructivist office building, as envisioned by Syd Mead.
Both systems have a comparable overall volume, about 447 cubic inches for the PS5 and 432 cubic inches for the hefty Xbox Series X. However, only the PS5 appears to pose a possible living room logistical issue. Regardless, it’s a striking aesthetic statement that looks excellent from every aspect. Rather than being an inconspicuous piece of black audio rack equipment, it’s clearly designed to be a sculptural discussion piece.
The PS5, like the PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S, is powered by AMD components inside the massive tower. It’s a bespoke AMD Zen 2 CPU with eight cores and a GPU based on AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics architecture in this case. You can learn more about the components of both new gaming consoles here, but the main lesson is that they’re both based on very similar platforms. Both come with default solid-state SSDs for storage (as opposed to the spinning platter hard drives seen in the 2013 PS4 and Xbox One), which significantly improves loading times. Technically, the PS5’s SSD has a faster throughput speed than the Xbox Series X’s, but the Xbox GPU can calculate more operations per second on paper.
You may descend down the rabbit hole of “which is more strong” and stay there for a long time. The Sega Dreamcast was the first system launch I covered as a reviewer in 1999, and I’ve heard the same discussion for every console generation thereafter. It will be at least a couple of years before any new game gets close to testing the hardware’s limits, so don’t get too excited about teraflops or core frequencies. The true distinction is one of temperament. The PS5 is a games-first console, whereas the Xbox Series X is a console-as-ecosystem that prioritizes multimedia, community, cloud gaming, and cross-platform consistency.
One more thing to mention. Despite all of the hype around 8K gaming, it’s not something you’ll be able to acquire on day one, if at all. Higher frame rates and variable refresh rates are more crucial to a decent gaming experience, as my colleague Geoff Morrison lays out in his great explanation here.
A radically new controller
With the retro-futurism of a Space: 1999 prop combined with a killer-robot Ghost in the Shell feel, the DualSense controller is bold but simple. While the new Xbox controller is a slightly updated version of the old Xbox gamepad, the PS5 controller has advanced significantly in both form and functionality over the PS4 version.
The adaptable triggers (which may give varied resistance, as if you’re being requested to crush and break a glass object), built-in mic, and greater haptic effects are the greatest advances. “I believe the controller is a game-changer and, so far, has done more to sell me on the PS5 than anything else I’ve fooled with,” my colleague Mark Serrels said.
The bigger center touchpad, which is more noticeable than the one on the PS4 DualShock controller, may provide the feature additional uses in games and applications, but I’ve just used it to access Miles Morales’ smartphone so far.
Perhaps most importantly, the power port on the rear is a USB-C connector. That’s it, iPhone 12! (It even includes a 3.5mm headphone jack to emphasize the point.)
However, there are a few things that don’t feel quite right. The option and share buttons are small, and the option button, which should give contextual options regardless of where you are, frequently accomplishes nothing. In comparison to the PS4 version, the PlayStation button at the bottom of the controller is no longer a circle. Instead, it’s a cut-out PlayStation logo that’s considerably more difficult to strike by feel. Instead of returning you to the home screen, it brings up a lower menu bar of options by default. That’s a significant change from PS4’s previous behavior, and I’m not sure which I prefer.
Finally, the Home button is located directly above a little button that switches on and off the built-in microphone, making it all too easy to unintentionally press when aiming for the Home button.
Playing native PS5 games
The PlayStation 5 comes with a preloaded game, which isn’t something you see very frequently these days (we used to call this a pack-in). Astro’s Playroom is primarily intended to serve as a showcase for the new controller. It’s a clever, traditional platformer that aficionados of the genre will recognize. The basic settings and characters don’t necessarily showcase the PS5 GPU, but the controller is fantastic, and both motion controls and force feedback are utilized as distinct game aspects. Yes, they are identical tiny robots from the PS4’s Playroom. My favorite memory was squeezing the DualSense controller’s trigger until I could smash a glass spherical. It was incredible to feel the tactile feedback.
In addition, I had the opportunity to play the new Spider-Man: Miles Morales game. It’s not going to blow your mind with fresh ideas as a new take on the highly praised 2018 PS4 Spider-Man game, but it’s a wonderful example of a high-gloss, fast-paced action game to show off the technology. A remastered edition of the original Spider-Man game is also on the way. When compared to the 2018 version, which was also played on the PS5, the new game looks much better — towers gleam, textures are more detailed, and the overall experience seems updated.
Initially, I viewed this as essentially a DLC-style add-on for the original game, but some of my coworkers strongly disagreed, and I’ve since come around to their point of view. The quantity of additional storyline, vocal work, cutscenes, and characters is astounding, and the more I played Miles Morales, the more I like it. This is arguably the closest thing to a killer app for mainstream gamers (i.e., non-Souls Demon’s aficionados) at launch.
In Miles Morales, you may pick between two graphic quality levels, similar to certain PS4 Pro titles. In other words, more features with a lower frame rate, or fewer features with a higher frame rate. Fidelity setting reduces the frame rate to 30 frames per second while enabling ray tracing and other visual effects. According to the in-game menu, it outputs in a native 4K resolution. The frame rate is increased to 60 frames per second, but ray-tracing is disabled, and the game is played at an undisclosed lower resolution before being upscaled to 4K.
As a Day 1 next-gen game, Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition offers both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it’s an improved version of an earlier game, Devil May Cry 5, released in 2019, thus it wasn’t designed for newer platform technology. However, it also provides a variety of graphical choices, such as ray-tracing at lower or higher resolutions (which impacts the frame rate) or a very high frame rate option for 120Hz TVs, which disables the ray-tracing effects. You’ll have to experiment to find which one works best for you — PC gamers must constantly choose between resolution, detail, and frame rate, and now console gamers must as well.
Asking the $500 question: Should you buy a PS5?
Current premium gaming PC hardware will rapidly exceed the PS5 and XBX, albeit I’d certainly hope so for a $2,000-plus gaming laptop or a $700 PC graphics card. But the fact that the old PS4 can still deliver incredible experiences like Ghost of Tsushima after so many years demonstrates that these machines have a lot of flexibility, and they’re continuously evolving with patches, upgrades, and new features.
Given this, the fact that Sony or Microsoft only asks for $500 every seven years seems like a lot better bargain than certain tech firms expecting you’ll spend $1,000 or more every 12-24 months on a slightly different new phone.
Do you require a PlayStation 5 immediately? No. If you wanted one but couldn’t get a preorder in, don’t worry about FOMO. The launch game selection is modest, with the most notable titles being a remake (Demon’s Souls) and a standalone add-on to a 2018 game (Spider-Man: Miles Morales), both of which will be accessible on PS4.
At the same time, the full PS5 bundle has me quite impressed. The design is striking. The new controller is a significant improvement in terms of ergonomics and functionality, and the inclusion of the new built-in controller mic (as well as a sold-separately new HD camera) will undoubtedly attract a slew of new streamers to Twitch and other platforms to demonstrate their skills.
If you’re a PlayStation enthusiast, or if you enjoy the platform’s unique titles (like Spider-Man, Final Fantasy VII, and Horizon Forbidden West), you’ll acquire one someday, whether now or when it’s more convenient to buy in shops.
My last recommendation is to save $100 and purchase the all-digital version if you can locate one. Collectors of classic game discs, used game buyers, and Blu-ray hoarders may object, but it saves money and eliminates one of the most troublesome mechanical elements in any game console. If you ask me, it’s a win-win situation.